Thursday, November 20, 2008

No such thing as 'I'? Easy. Change pronouns.

This ties in with the previous post on that quiz thing where I wrote that discussions (and if I may add, the stuff Ive encountered over the internets) Ive had in the past three years reinforced my 'worldview'. Anyway, I was listening to a podcast this morning of The Forum from the BBC World Service with neuroscientist Susan Blackmore as one of the guests, and I swear it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud, which wouldve been embarrassing as I was on the shuttle with ten strangers who would think Ive gone mad had it not been for my self control. Susan Blackmore has an interesting theory: Free will is an illusion. The reason? She couldnt find it.

"If we look at the brain... there doesnt seem to be any room for a 'me' in there or for something called consciousness... There is no kind of central place where it all comes together and consciousness happens."

So she decides to live her life as if free will doesnt exist. How does she manage to do that? She substitutes pronouns, and sees herself in the third person. "Whenever a choice comes up, I dont think 'Oh I have to decide', but think, 'She will decide. A decision will be made.'" But, Susan, who is that doing the observing? Who is that going 'She will decide'? Isnt that a, holy crap, a 'me', an 'I', a self? Transferring pronouns aint gon' work.

The host, Bridget Kendall, presses her on her views. "How did you decide to be on this program?," she asked.

Apparently, she didnt. Her brain did. And she, whoever that is, who is an illusion and therefore doesnt exist, went, "That's interesting," she said, "let's see what she decides. And she decided... I just trust that there will be things that will make a decision... We are clever decision-making animals." We're choosing machines, she adds.

"We're natural dualists," she continues. "We imagine there are two kinds of stuff: mind and brain, and the mind influences the brain. Scientifically that can't be true."

But ma'am, I assume youve heard of the placebo effect? Or the nocebo effect? Mind-over-matter? Even Dr. Gregory House believes in that sort of thing. So Dr. House isnt real, but that's beside the point. The fact is, it's a two-way street. The brain does influence the mind, as any drunk would tell you, but in the same way, the mind does influence the brain. Obsessive compulsive disorders and phobias have been successfully treated by training patients to change their minds. Consciously.

To be fair, Ms. Blackmore doesnt claim to have all the answers. But her research I think has a fatal flaw in that it a priori eliminates the mind: The mind does not exist, therefore we can't admit any hypothesis that includes it. "The brain works this way, but I feel as though Im this way.... Obviously our ideas of self and consciousness and free will just dont fit with the science." I suppose it hasnt occurred to her that the science could be wrong.

So that's what Ive been getting from the science media: a sensationalist, materialist point of view. And it's rubbish. Is it any wonder then that from 31% materialist in 2005, Im now 0% materialist. It's the insufficiency, the poverty of the materialist explanation to explain experience that did it. And the paltriness of the other worldviews as well.

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